Back By Midnight
Monarch // R // $24.95 // January 25, 2005
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted December 25, 2004
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One of Rodney Dangerfield's last (and least funny) films

The Movie
Being Rodney Dangerfield had some good benefits, one of the biggest being the respect other comedians had for him, no matter how many times he said he didn't get it. Because of that respect, when he made a film, he could call on his friends to take part. Back by Midnight is a perfect example; a film that, despite a truly bad script, drew several well-known names to be in it. Sure, Randy Quaid, Paul Rodriguez and Kirstie Alley aren't top stars, but they have had pretty good careers. Will this movie end them? Probably not, but it won't help.

Dangerfield stars as Jake, the warden of privately-run Rockwood Prison, a run-down correction center where inmates and guards co-exist peacefully, in a country-club atmosphere. He wants to make improvements, but when he approaches the prison's owner, department-store tycoon Eli Rockwood (Quaid), he's rebuffed and told he'll be fired in two months. With nothing to lose, Jake hatches a plan to allow his prisoners, including Rodriguez and Phil LaMarr ("madTV"), to escape at night, in order to rob Rockwood's store for the things they need to fix up the Big House. Of course, they have to be back by midnight, when Smitty (Tony Cox, Bad Santa), the pint-size guard, does his bed-check.

In addition to the main story, there's a subplot involving a British businesswoman (played with an intermittent accent by Alley) who wants to merge with Rockwood (in more ways than one) and more cameos than really necessary. Among the relatively well-known cast are Ed Begley, Jr., Harland Williams, Louis Anderson, Gilbert Gottfried, porn star Ron Jeremy, Yeardley Smith ("The Simpsons"), Nell Carter and Vinny Pastore ("The Sopranos"). I found playing "spot the celebrity" to be a bit more fun than watching the actual movie, which seemed like little more than a loose plot with large hole for Dangerfield to fill with his patented stand-up. Unfortunately, not even that works.

It's no surprise that the film is written and directed by his long-time collaborator Harry Basil, the creative genius behind Dangerfield lowlights like Meet Wally Sparks, My 5 Wives and The 4th Tenor. Basil must be a really nice guy for Dangerfield to have stuck with him after that track record.

With a famous cast and some likable stars, including LaMarr and Dangerfield, this movie might seem like it's worth a viewing. But then, once the dogs start humping and Alley fakes an orgasm in an electric chair, you'll realize how wrong you were. Go back and watch Back to School, remember the funny Rodney and think of what might have been.

The DVD
Monarch sent over a promotional screener of this film, which meant no menus of any kind, and through most of the movie, the words "For Promotional Use Only" were burned onto the screen. A trailer for this movie preceded a full-screen transfer. There were no scene selections, audio options or subtitles. If Monarch sends over a retail version, an updated review will be posted.

The Quality
The full-screen transfer didn't look horrible, but was not a great example of DVD quality. Grain was highly evident, colors were dull and shadows leaned more toward dark gray than black. The image was reasonably detailed, but wasn't very sharp. The audio, a 2.0 Dolby Surround track, was standard comedy fare, with center-channel dialogue and music that wasn't much more dynamic than the actors' voices.

The Extras
The trailer before the movie is the only thing resembling an extra. I would have taken a menu or scene selections, if offered. The box makes no mention of any additional fun stuff.

The Bottom Line
If I had my way, the only Rodney Dangerfield film saved for posterity would be his one masterpiece, Back to School (as Caddyshack doesn't count as a "Rodney" movie.) Unfortunately, there are more Rodney films like Back by Midnight, which ruin his reputation even after he's gone. Based on this screener, it doesn't look like Monarch is paying much respect with this release, and people buying it are paying too much. Hardcore Rodney fans might want to give it a rent, but everyone else can steer clear.



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